12.12.08

Claimant had constructive knowledge of local authority’s breach of duty on the basis he had the opportunity to see his care records previously.  

Mr Pierce, when in his late twenties, sued Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council on the allegation that it had failed to take him into care as an infant and in consequence exposed him to abuse and grave neglect by his parents. His claim focused on events when he was aged (i) 18 months, (ii) 3 and (iii) 14-15. At first instance he succeeded in respect of (i) but failed in respect of (ii) and (iii). The council appealed against this finding.  

Held: The Court of Appeal held there was evidential support for the conclusion the Judge reached that it was negligent to return Mr Pierce home when he was 18 months old. It was foreseeable that if a negligent return were made, injury through bad parenting would occur. The award of £25,000 did not lie outside the bracket properly available to the Judge, even though Mr Pierce’s severe personality order was congenital and would have occurred in any event. The council’s appeal therefore failed on these issues. However, in relation to limitation, Mr Pierce had been given the opportunity to see his care records previously but had not done so. On this basis he had constructive knowledge of the authority’s breach of duty under s.14 Limitation Act 1980 and the council’s appeal on this issue was allowed. The issue of whether a discretionary extension should be allowed under s.33 Limitation Act 1980 was therefore remitted to the trial Judge.  

Comment: Mr Pierce had sought a copy of his file from the local authority as early as 1995 but for various reasons had not actually seen the file until 2004. Whilst it remains to be seen what approach is taken in relation to the application under s.33, it is to be hoped that the trial Judge will not allow the claim to proceed. The decision in the case of TCD v Harrow Council and others (see below) is of relevance – in that case the Claimant was unsuccessful in pursuing any part of her claim after a significant delay.